Zeeland West is undefeated, but that is no surprise to anyone in the world of Michigan high school football.
The unusual thing about the start for the defending Division 4 state champs is that all games have been relatively close: 14-9 over Cedar Springs, 32-28 over Muskegon Mona Shores and 38-22 against Grand Rapids West Catholic.
All of the Dux’s opponents have been good teams, especially West Catholic, which won the last three Division 5 state titles.
West is a difficult team to prepare for, given its full-house T-formation offense that relies on all three running backs and the quarterback carrying out fakes long past the line of scrimmage as the defense is left wondering who has the ball.
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One of the keys to West’s success has been blocking by its two tight ends, which are basically offensive tackles lining up at each end of the line of scrimmage.
“For years in running our offense, we were a tight end block down and kick-out team, and people found a way to combat that by really squeezing that guy,” said West coach John Shillito. “So we ask our tight end to block the edge a lot. A lot of times we put two of our best linemen, if not our two best linemen, at tight end.”
This year’s tight ends — Jake Slager (6-feet-5, 235 pounds) and Connor Chupailo (6-4, 265) — even look like tackles, just as former West all-stater Jordan VanDort (6-5, 320) did a few years ago.
The thing about the Dux’s offense is that it seems to require a court order before Shillito calls for a pass play.
The Dux did attempt four passes against West Catholic, completing three of them. One of the completions was a 24-yard touchdown pass to Chupailo.
“For us, the threat of the pass is a big threat of what we do more so than how many times we pass,” said Shillito. “But if we’re going to do it we want to get a big play.”
That is what the Dux got when quarterback Hunter Blauwkamp threw the touchdown pass.
“We hope our tight ends are guys that can run and catch a little bit, and these two guys are, so that’s a plus,” Shillito said. “We feel like we need at least one of them that we can threaten the defense with.”
A crucial aspect of West’s 3-0 start has been the play of Blauwkamp, who has done an admirable job replacing Casey Brinks.
“It was definitely a position we were concerned with because we had a three-year guy who went 39-2 and was probably the coolest customer going,” Shillito said of Brinks. “Hunter has stepped in and really made a lot of big plays, especially against West Catholic. He made a lot of good decisions back there.”
■TRAVERSE CITY TURNOVERS: Traverse City Central coach Eric Schugars didn’t mince words when describing his team’s 10-8 victory over Traverse City West in the town’s annual Patriot Game.
“It was an ugly game,” he said. “It was ugly, but it was one of those game with cross-town rivals like that, in that environment — kids made plays even after we made mistakes.”
The mistake level reached epic proportions, with each team committing five turnovers.
“I think we tried to turn it over more than them,” Schugars said. “It was like a competition in turnovers, unfortunately.”
This was a game in which the defense needed to be at its best, and for Central it was. In fact, junior Terry O’Connor’s 12-yard interception return was Central’s only touchdown.
With linebacker Fitz Doud and two-way tackle Ben Sherwin leading the way on defense, the Trojans should be competitive in every game.
“We do have a great defense this year, and we kind of hang our hats on that right now,” Schugars said. “That’s what kept us in the game.”
Before the season, a Central player said the team’s goal was to be better than “Up North good.” Central is competitive every season, until the playoffs begin.
Last season in the state playoffs, the Trojans lost, 40-14, to Muskegon, and the year before they were beaten, 35-0, by Midland Dow. That is why Central hosts Portage Central this week and plays at Birmingham Brother Rice in Week 8.
“We added tougher teams on our schedule because we got beat in the first round by Muskegon pretty handily,” Schugars said. “You go 9-0 and then hit the playoffs. Our players will tell you, too, they just weren’t ready for that. They didn’t really step their game up and we learned from that.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.